Blog Post

Exceptionalism through Intellectual Freedom

Below, I'm critiqueing a post recently made by the blogger The Annoyed Librarian. I think its important to focus on her self-described rants, because they are an indication as to the overarching hegemonic subtleties (or not so subtle) that control, determine and shift the LIS field. This blog is hosted on the largest and probably most widely circulated library journal, Library Journal, and is one example of the racial and hegemonic undertones of librarianship.

In her blog post “Toleration and Intellectual Freedom,” The Annoyed Librarian discusses Banned Books Week in relationship to countries that have censored the anti-Muslim film “Innocent Muslim.” What I want to focus on is the Annoyed Librarian’s use of American Exceptionalism, ‘good’ citizenship, and the use of the Muslim body as an example of the ‘bad citizen.’
 
The AnnoyedLibrarian first starts out the blog by naming Banned Books Week ‘Blanned Books Week,’ signaling that librarians and the American Library Association really don’t do anything when they celebrate books that have been challenged or banned in U.S. history, because American censorship is nothing compared to censorship in the Middle East. Her dismissal of any notion of surveillance or intellectual freedom needs in the U.S. immediately premises the blog as ultra-nationalistic, positioning citizenship as ‘good’ when it does not question anything and on a binary with Middle Eastern Muslims. 
 
            After she has established the good citizen, she sets up a binary with the governments and people of the Middle East, calling them “a large population of violent people ready to kill other people for their beliefs, I guess it’s easier to repress freedoms than educate people in toleration” (my emphasis). She foils the contemporary Middle East and Muslims in particular to what Protestants and Catholics were “A few hundred years ago in Europe,’ displaying that there has somehow been a religious progression and trajectory from violence to non-violence among Christians that Muslims must now travel. There is no mention of contemporary Middle East occupation or violence from the U.S.
 
     It's interesting to see something like censorship turned on its head. After 9/11 many Americans felt like their rights were being diminished in the name of safety and surveillance. Natsu Taylor Saitsu reminds that    “…the current expansion of executive powers and the concomitant restrictions on civil rights are not simply a response to a national emergency sparked by recent acts of terrorism, but a move toward legitimating powers that have a long history of being used consciously and deliberately to suppress political dissent” (1129). I think the Annoyed Librarian displays this empty sense of history, declaring that the U.S. is in no way threatened by censorship or surveillance, she uses the U.S. to re-affirm a notion of American Orientalism that dismisses occupation and war in Muslim countries. 
 
            The blogger goes on to define religious tolerance and ties it to intellectual freedom, stating that, “The intellectual freedom we in America have come to support is the fuller definition of toleration for religious belief and every other non-harmful creed or action.” Ultimately her argument is that defending intellectual freedom means positioning oneself against protesting Muslims in the Middle East, and “Instead of congratulating ourselves and playing at battles already won, we’d spend more time talking about the international struggle for toleration and intellectual freedom that lies ahead.”

Todd Honma's article Trippin Over the Color Line is important in reflection over The Annoyed Librarian's post and the message of whiteness. Honma argues “whiteness works as an invisible and elusive structure of privilege, one that allows for constant reinvention and rearticulation to protect the interests of a white racial ruling class” (5). The post reinforces whiteness as already liberating and in need of intellectually liberating Muslim's abroad. It is a quintessential, almost cliched reaction among liberal librarians, who both recirculate their patriotism by unquestioningly promoting U.S. policy while also justifying a further Islamaphobia. 
 
The message of American exceptionalism here is always interdependent on a brown body that is violent and absent, yet threatening U.S. freedoms. The argument is completely absent of historical contexts of U.S. war, occupation or weapon interference. Instead, she justifies an ‘international struggle for toleration and intellectual freedom.’ In this blog the law, religious tolerance, respect and intellectual freedom are placed on a plane of U.S. citizenship, and librarianship in particular, that must now take up the banner against international censorship, with no reference to American imperialism or racism. 
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